Privilege Problems: Matt Damon Edition, Guest-starring Ellen DeGeneres

Hey remember when Matt Damon damonsplained diversity to one of the filmmakers on his show greenlight who happens to be the only black woman?  And then he “apologized” by saying that he was glad that he started a conversation about diversity.  Newsflash dude, we were already having a conversation about diversity.  It’s just that Matt Damon is apparently one of those dudes that doesn’t think things exist if he isn’t involved in them.

Whatever.  We all moved on with our lives.  There are more problematic people than Matt Damon and then…oh no…Matt Damon wasn’t done saying dumb things?  Here’s the new thing…

“I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.” — The Guardian

So, first of all, I’m not entirely sure that to say he was saying gay actors should stay in the closest is precisely correct.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t think what he said isn’t ridiculous, it is.  What he did actually say, essentially, is that everyone should stay “in the closet” about their sexuality.  See, equal opportunity, friends.  There’s only one problem with that.  Say it with me…

Heteronormativity.

Yeah.  See if an actor doesn’t show up with a significant other at some point, most people will assume that actor is straight. It’s literally impossible to be “in the closet” if you’re straight unless you are actively pretending to be gay which – to be clear – no one is doing.  If you want to be “mysterious” about your sexuality as a non-straight person that means actively hiding your sexuality whereas if you’re straight it just means not taking your dates to public events.  If you’re straight, you really can ride under the radar with your sexuality because we don’t have to specify straightness.  Straightness is our society’s default sexuality.  It’s not something that we talk about.

That’s what’s the most problematic about about what Matt Damon said.  He – as his previous diversity ‘splaining session should indicate to us – doesn’t really understand his privilege.

So in the wake of this new dumb statement Matt Damon did what any celebrity would do, he went on Ellen DeGeneres so that she could smooth things over for him.  She is, after all, the ‘L’ in LGBTQ, so who better to forgive him on behalf of the entire LGBTQ community.  Matt Damon stumbles through a thing where he blames the internet for loving to jump on the stupid things celebrities say and then DeGeneres…well, I’ll let the Guardian tell you…

DeGeneres, who is openly gay, told him: “I know you and I know you’re not that guy.”

Alright, everyone go home.  Ellen DeGeneres said he’s not that guy.  Clearly everything is fine.

Wait…

Here’s the ‘Guest-starring Ellen DeGeneres’ portion of the piece.  As great as it is to have celebrity ambassadors of the LGBTQ community, we have to stop perpetuating the “I have a <insert marginalized person here> friend” syndrome. When people like Ellen, or even non-celebrities, say “this thing didn’t offend me therefore it is not offensive to <insert marginalized group>” they are speaking for an entire community as though that community is one homogeneous group.  Doing that is the other side of the classic “I can’t be racist, I have a black friend.”  It’s not just for people who totally aren’t racist.  It’s also for people who totally aren’t homophobic.  Even Kim Davis has gay friends.  One person speaking definitively for an entire community allows us to live in a world where we expect one person to stand in for an entire community (and visa versa…it’s a whole vicious cycle).  It leads to generalizations about groups of people that are harmful to everyone, especially people who don’t fit the mold of what X people are “supposed” to be like.

It’s great that Ellen DeGeneres knows Matt Damon well enough to understand that he didn’t mean what he said the way it has been taken.  What would have been great is if she could then have gone on to point out that not meaning to be offensive and hurtful is not the same as not being offensive and hurtful.  Matt Damon stepped into a pretty fantastic opportunity for taking credit for a genuinely productive conversation about social norms which he is totally missing out on. In fact the attitude that Matt Damon is perpetuating – the idea that everyone can be equally mysterious about their sexuality as a means to making their acting better (a proposition that I think is pretty ridiculous for other reasons) – is that being gay will be damaging to your acting career.  As it happens, being gay has been damaging to many acting careers because “being mysterious about your sexuality” is a really great cover for people who just think being gay is yucky.  Who knew?  (Lots of people, it turns out.)

So Matt Damon, please take some basic college courses.  I would suggest Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  You’ll learn a lot.  Maybe it will help your acting.  You can even feel free to take credit for the suggestion.

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